Explaining a change in plans to campaign donors

“When we launched our campaign back in 2010, the staff position included in the goal made sense. But now that we have the money in hand, not so much. We remain committed to the purposes for the position, but we see there’s a better way to get the work done. How do we explain the change of plans to donors?”

This question from a campaign co-chair with whom I worked a couple of years back will ring familiar to anyone who’s been down the campaign trail a time or two. As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men seldom turn out as anticipated. Circumstances change. New opportunities arise. Yesterday’s bright ideas dim with time.

hand_drawing_a_to_b_800_clr_11972Most reasonable folks agree it’s silly to press ahead with an initiative that’s no longer needed just because gifts were given to make it so. On the other hand, donor intent matters – a lot.

Is it possible to find common ground between the organization’s new reality and what donors gave to support? And will donors be comfortable going there?

As I advised the questioning co-chair, he’ll only know by explaining and asking. But I’m betting that most of those with whom he speaks won’t bat an eye at the slight change in direction. In fact, my is experience that 99.9 percent of the time, 99.9 percent of those who give via a campaign do so because they want to be part of what God is up to through a particular organization. Their hearts have been captured by the anticipated outcomes. They’ll want to see things through, even if the particulars of the plan have changed slightly.

In other words, we can trust that if we’re transparent and prompt in explaining a shift in direction, donors will understand. Better yet, they’ll appreciate the even wiser use of campaign-garnered funds.

BEATING THE GRAPEVINE

FYI, here’s the roll-out sequence I suggest for explaining changes in how funds are allocated.

1. Before releasing an end-of-campaign announcement to the public at large, run the list of donors who designated their gifts for the initiative in question. Then decide who needs a visit, who will be satisfied with a phone call, and for whom a letter will suffice. Whatever the communication method, timing is everything. These special donors need to be the first to hear about the changed direction.

2. When communicating campaign outcomes to everyone else, reference the change in how funds will be used but in lesser detail than provided to donors referenced in point 1. Most in your support base won’t care about the change. In fact, they’ll likely not notice the explanation. Those who do catch the mention, however, will appreciate your honest reporting

3. As campaign funds are expended, take every opportunity to let donors who designated their gifts to the now-changed initiative know that the ministry outcomes that captured their hearts are being realized.  The work may not be exactly as you or they envisioned, but it is good nonetheless.

There’s no shame in changing course. In fact, it’s the rare campaign that ends where it began. Wise donors understand. Trust them. Tell them.

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